In the Middle Ages, Lille, along with Roubaix, Cambrai and Douai, was one of the great Flemish centers. The wealth came from the main industries of textiles and coal. Stroll around the delightful old quarter and you see the results of that wealth: comfortable, grand mansions built by the merchants in its winding old streets. But Lille had another great advantage that made it stand out: it was the main city on the rich trading route between Flanders and Paris.
You can’t get lost in Vieux Lille. Start at the Grand’Place, the southern boundary marked by the splendid warm red-brick mid 17th-century Ancienne Bourse, testament to the fact the Lille was above all, a mercantile and trading city rather than a religious center. Once upon a time it contained 24 houses around the central courtyard which today is a second hand book market.
Walk north and you plunge into narrow cobbled streets like rue des Chats-Bossus and rue de la Monnaie, all of which are worth strolling through, shopping in, getting lost and stopping at any of the bars, cafes or restaurants that fill the area. At its heart stands the delightful Museum of the Hospice of the Countess.
More from Lille Tourism
Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse (the Museum of the Hospice of the Countess)
This former Hospice Comtesse is a peaceful, beautiful collection of buildings, recalling the days of the richness of Lille when it belonged to the powerful Counts of Flanders. Founded by Countess Jeanne (1206-1244) in her own palace, it was one of the many religious, humanitarian hospitals that sprang up in Flanders and Hainaut in the 12th and 13th centuries.
You walk through a large gateway into an inner courtyard. The hospice rooms that you can visit lie across the cobbles. You enter into a parlour which gives you a feel of what is to come. The building was changed through the centuries, but the 17th-century wood paneling, tiled walls and wooden floors full of oak furniture, give you a real sense of the past.
32 rue de la Monnaie
Tel.: 00 (0)3 28 36 84 00
Birthplace of President Charles de Gaulle
Address9 Rue Princesse, 59000 Lille, France
Phone+33 3 59 73 00 30
In the old town on a side street, you come to the house where France’s most famous president, Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was born. It’s a thoroughly bourgeois house, typical of the late 19th century. There are only a few rooms to see, but it does give you an idea of life at the time and of the relatively humble origins of France's great figure.
More satisfying for a real view of the private man and the public figure is the impressive Charles de Gaulle Memorial in Colombey-les-deux Eglises in Champagne and the private house he lived in for so many years. The Charles de Gaulle Memorial Museum takes the man and his times, taking you from pre world War I to the 1960s when he was still a powerful figure. You can also visit his tomb, and those of many members of his family in the small local churchyard.
9 rue Princesse
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 28 38 12 05
Open Wed-Sat 10am-noon, 2-5pm, Sun 1.30-5pm
Admission Adult 6 euros, concessions 4 euros, up to 18 years old free
More Sights for Charles de Gaulle
Palais des Beaux Arts, Fine Arts Museum
The Fine Arts Museum of Lille is France’s second museum after the Louvre in Paris. It was all due to Napoleon, who brought the spoils of war from his European conquests to France, then distributed them to other cities. Lille did very well indeed. The museum, housed in a grand neoclassical building of the late 19th century, is enormous. The large impressive spaces offer a panorama of great European art, from Flemish masterpieces of the 17th to 19th centuries like Rubens’ Descent from the Cross, and Van Dyck’s Christ on the Cross, to works by other European masters such as Goya, Corot, Goya, Monet, Lautrec and Picasso. Watteau was the first curator, so he is well represented as well.
In addition, there are sculpture galleries with superb 19th-century pieces and basement rooms where the likes of Donatello’s bas-relief Festin d’Herod and sketches by Raphael take pride of place.
Don’t miss the huge detailed models by Vauban of Louis XIV’s fortified north France towns..
The Museum holds very good temporary exhibitions as well, so some exhibits might not be on show on a visit.
Pl. de la Republique
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 06 78 00
Open Monday 2-6pm
Wednesday to Sunday 10am-6pm
Closed Tuesday, Jan 1st, May 1st, July 14th, First weekend of September (during the braderie de Lille), November 1st and December 25th.
Admission Adult 7 euros, 4 euros for 12 to 25 year olds
Café Monday 2pm-5.30pm; Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5.30pm.
Major Events in Lille
Lille is a lively city, with great events all year round.
April 6th to April 10th, 2016
Paris-Roubaix Cycle Race
Each year in April, nearby Roubaix hosts a long weekend of festivities as part of the famous Paris-Roubaix cycle race. Plenty of events, let alone watching those determined cyclists battling it out over the distinctly unfriendly cobbles of Roubaix. There are exhibitions, a evening at the Stab velodrome with concerts and more and a big screen at the Roubaix velodrome.
September 3rd to 4th, 2016
This enormous flea market takes place always on the first weekend in September. More than 2 million people come to Lille for the 24-hour bonanza, with stalls everywhere and enough moules-frites to keep everybody going from Saturday at 2pm to Sunday at 11pm.
November to December
One of the best Christmas markets in the north of France, around 80 stalls fill the streets. There’s a large wheel and skating rink as well.
La Piscine Museum of Art and Industry in Roubaix
Take the short metro ride from the central Lille Flanders station to Roubaix, the suburb of Lille which houses La Piscine, La Musée d’Art et d’Industrie. It’s a fabulous building, a swimming pool and bath house built for both the well-to-do and the poor in a 19th-century town that was rapidly expanding to meet the demands of the growing textile industry. The building has been imaginatively restored, with the pool itself housing a collection of sculpture and the small corridors to either side full of paintings and some remarkably good ceramics. It’s an odd collection, a real hotch-potch of interesting art, with some minor works by major artists like Bonnard and Vlaminck.
Musée d’Art et d’Industrie
23 rue de L’esperance
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 69 23 60
Museum of Modern Art (LAM)
Another short metro ride and you get to the Museum of Modern Art in Villeneuve d’Ascq which is on the outskirts of Lille. The museum (officially LAM or the Lille Metropolitan Museum for Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art), re-opened in September 2010 after 4 years of renovation and building a new extension. It stands in rolling green parkland in the university campus suburb.
In 2006 LAM was officially classified as the 4th Museum of France after Paris’s Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Pompidou Center.
Exciting art and top temporary exhibitions make this a draw for visitors from Lille as well as those from the U.K., Belgium and the Netherlands.
1 allée du Musée
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 20 19 68 68
The new outpost of the famous Louvre Museum in Paris opened in December 2012. The gleaming aluminum and glass building houses a remarkable collection of art from the Louvre, taking in over 6,500 years of human achievement. It’s in the small town of Lens, just south of Lille. One of the main aims of the extension is to breathe new life into the former mining community in the same way that the Guggenheim did in Bilbao and to a lesser extent, the Pompidou-Metz Center did to Metz, the capital of Lorraine.
There’s a permanent exhibition and major temporary exhibitions, so allow at least 2 hours and if possible, half a day for your visit.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 21 18 62 62
Hotels, Restaurants and Practical Information for Lille
How to Get to Lille
TGV and Eurostar services arrive from Paris, Roissy and major French cities at Lille-Europe station, which is about five minutes’ walk into the center.
Regional trains from Paris and other cities arrive at Gare Lille-Flandres, slightly closer to the center. This was originally Paris’s Gare du Nord, but was brought here brick by brick in 1865.
Hotels in Lille
Lille has an excellent and wide range of hotels.
Restaurants in Lille
Lille is something of a gastronomic destination with everything from a beautiful Art Deco fish restaurant to bustling brasseries.
Lille Tourist Office